The city of Paris, which has served as the backdrop for countless romantic films, summons up visions of the Eiffel Tower illuminated against an inky sky and intimate couples in dimly lit cafes murmuring hushed I love you’s. Julie Delpy’s film “2 Days in Paris” brusquely defies this idyllic representation. Ms. Delpy, who wrote, directed, produced, and scored the film, also stars as Marion, a Parisian photographer who has relocated to New York with her American boyfriend of two years Jack (Adam Goldberg). “2 Days in Paris” introduces audiences to the couple fresh from a two week sojourn in Venice. Before returning to New York, they schedule a two day stop-over in Paris to introduce Jack to Marion’s hometown and family.
The couple’s stay quickly descends into unmitigated disaster, complete with encounters with Marion’s parents, ex-beaus, and crazed taxi drivers that range from mildly uncomfortable to lewdly inappropriate and violent. Marion happens to live in an apartment one flight above her parents, Anna and Jeannot, played by Ms. Delpy’s actual parents Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy. Anna and Jeannot, under the most forgiving of descriptions, can be called “quirky.” They are loud, bawdy, excitable, quiz Jack on French authors and offer him a rabbit’s head at dinner.
Trouble really begins when the two begin running into Marion’s exes all over the city. Jack, a bit of a paranoid narcissist and (unfortunately for him) a non French speaker, assumes (often correctly) that Marion’s ex-beaus are a minute away from ravaging her in broad daylight. Interestingly, Jack is at once isolated by the language barrier and constantly surrounded by bodily reminders of Marion’s romantic past. These constant encounters with Marion’s old flames cause a great deal of tension between the couple and emphasize a distinct French/American cultural gap.
Since the film focuses exclusively on Jack and Marion’s relationship, audiences have complete access to their many idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. Marion’s job as a photographer leads her to question whether she documents moments rather than living them. She dissects her relationship with Jack in the same over-analytical, anxious manner. Jack works as an interior decorator and is equal parts scruffy, smart, and self-absorbed. Within five minutes of stepping off the train from Venice he purposefully misdirects a tour group of gullible Americans searching for the Louvre. He also harbors some hypochondriac tendencies that come to light when he discovers a rampant case of mold growing in Marion’s bathroom.
The razor-sharp repartee between the Jack and Marion undoubtedly functions as the highlight of the film. They playfully bicker about Bush, blow jobs, and balloons withrefreshing spontaneity reminiscent of classic Woody Allen movies. This banter is entertaining and insightful, but “2 Days in Paris” falters when it comes to plot, which would have grounded the film and given it better direction. In addition, scenes of Paris seemed unfairly restricted to dark disheveled apartments, art galleries, and other indoor spaces. The film would have benefited from a breath of Parisian outdoor air and scenery.
Marion and Jack’s attempts to bridge the gap in their relationship and cultural differences cause “2 Days in Paris” to become bogged down in verbal excess. Their conversations are undeniably real, but by the film’s conclusion they are also rather grating and exhausting. Such a raw unforgiving look at a two excessively neurotic people and their relationship takes an emotional toll on the audience. As the film progressed I found that I wasn’t really invested in the happiness of either character. Worse yet, aside from their mutual neuroses, I couldn’t think of a reason for them to be together in the first place. Maybe this is part of Ms. Delpy’s point; relationships are often frustrating, annoyingly imperfect things and romantic comedies should strive to capture these imperfections. While there is truth and value in such a sentiment, “2 Days in Paris” does not quite succeed in capturing the charm of a dysfunctional relationship navigating the streets of Paris.